Blood in Bloom, at Asbury’s Carousel

Chelsea Zeno, Aliya Bowles and Stephany Mora make like intergalactic Angels during rehearsals for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, the ReVision Theatre Company production going up Thursday, October 7.

ReVision Theatre Company is on a roll.

After an inauspicious start to a supremely soggy Summer 2011 season of entertainments at Asbury Park’s Carousel House (their candylicious Xanadu was one of the few shows that could boast an indoor rain-out on Opening Night), the professional troupe garnered the greatest reviews of its brief history via a totally fuckin’ electrifying Spring Awakening — with that well known Tony winner followed by a genuine surprise: an almost completely unknown Breakup Notebook that cheerfully won over a lot of audiences who didn’t think they were in the market for a so-called “Lesbian Musical.”

Here in October — that way-past-summer month when the Zombies walk and the costume parties ka-ching in the city that’s become the regional capital of Halloween — the ReVisionaries take one final spin on the Carousel, with a new production of the 1982 sci-fi songfest Little Shop of Horrors.

Really? Little Shop? The same show that your nephew co-starred in at his high school? Like, why not just skip straight to Nunsense, with a couple of readings of Love Letters thrown in for good measure?

Now hold on there DeWitt — the ReVision folks didn’t mean to insult your theater-snob sensibilities. It’s just that the whole extended Halloweekend season in Asbury cries out for something that fits within its creature-feature context — and with The Rocky Horror Show having already been successfully staged in 2010, there aren’t a whole lot of well-crafted monster musicals out there to choose from.

On the other hand, Little Shop is a popular show because Little Shop is a good show — one that’s based on a legendary 1960 Roger Corman drive-in groovie (in which a skinny kid from Bradley Beach named Jack Nicholson got a plum early role); that was satisfyingly remade as a screen musical in 1986; that boasted music by Alan Menken with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. Yeah, the Howard Ashman who gave heart and dimension to Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). One does not speak ill of the sainted Ashman.

On the third hand (did we mention it’s Halloween?), director Mary Kate Burke has out-and-out revealed that this a Little Shop like you’ve never seen before — one that’s chock full of surprises, even in light of a plot that revolves around a bloodthirsty man-eating plant from outer space. More on that in a moment.

Rhiannon Hansen and Michael Linden are Skid Row sweethearts Audrey and Seymour in the ReVision Theatre Company production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  

In the ReVision production that presses forth its first budding preview on Thursday, October 6; opens into full-flower bloom on October 7 and continues to grow and flourish through October 30, Michael Linden stars as Seymour Krelborn — milquetoast employee at the Skid Row flower shop owned by the disagreeable Mr. Mushnick (Bradley Mott), and a nebbish who longs to impress his secret love, the good-hearted if soft-headed Audrey (Rhiannon Hansen, who you may recall as a contestant from the MTV show Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods). Alas, Audrey has herself a boyfriend — a guy named Orin (Alex Michaels), who also happens to be an abusive asshole, a Brandoesque biker, and a dentist.

Fortune seemingly smiles upon Seymour when he discovers (and names after Audrey) an exotic, possibly extraterrestrial species of flower —  a weird Venus Flytrap sort of thing that grows from a hungry little pod in a pot, into a talking, singing character with a green streak of jealousy and an insatiable thirst for human blood.

“The big thing with each production of the show is how to do the plant,” says Burke (a young veteran who’s worked on some high profile projects with such famed directors as Jonathan Lynn and Arthur Penn) of the role that’s historically been performed by puppeteers and a male voice actor — such as the Motown singer Levi Stubbs in the 1986 film.

In the ReVision re-visioning, however, “We weren’t going to rent or build a giant plant — we decided to humanize Audrey II as a woman.”

As the director continues, “Audrey II starts as a puppet in a plant pot, and with the song ‘Feed Me’ it opens up and she comes out, and does magical things.”

Dayna Jarae Dantzler plays the literal maneater in a way that allows the actress to “move about the stage and dance, rather than have Seymour singing to a stationary puppet.”

“Audrey II sees how infatuated Seymour is with Audrey I,” explains Burke, who just wrapped a long run as artistic director for Pennsylvania’s Millbrook Playhouse. “She capitalizes on that, to get him to do things outside his normal parameters.”

Transforming the show’s baritone-voiced monster centerpiece into a sexy leaf-tendrilled temptress might, under normal circumstances, stand as reason enough to give this familiar show another look — but this being ReVision Theatre, the producers haven’t stopped there.

As the director explains, the characters of Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette — a trio of “street urchins” who function as a girl-group Greek chorus in the musical — have been supercharged here into “an intergalactic SWAT team; a Charlie’s Angels group of undercover agents sent here to kill Audrey II.”

“We have such a great sense of the concept from the beginning of the show,” says Burke of the expanded roles for “urchins” Aliya Bowles (like Michael Linden, a cast member of the Spring Awakening National Tour), Stephany Mora and Chelsea Zeno.

“In a prologue that we’ve included, the urchins are given their mission— the actor who plays Orin has an extra role here, as the head intergalactic agent…he’s their Charlie.”

“This is a Little Shop you’ve never seen before,” says the director of the production that also offers up some new opportunities for choreographer Brad Landers and ReVision musical director Michael Thomas Murray to get creative with a latterday classic. “It’s been fun for all of us, to approach it as if it’s a brand new play.”

LITTLE SHOP HORRORS previews on Thursday, October 6; opens October 7 (with an after party available to ticketholders) and continues through Sunday, October 30 with performances at 8pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, and 7pm Sundays. JUST ADDED are a pair of 2pm “costume party” matinees on October 15 and 22; tickets for all performances range from $18 to $52, and can be reserved right here.

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